Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fox's Bride (e-book) by A.E. Marling

Fox's Bride is self-published fantasy. It's 87,190 words long.

I couldn't think of enough read-likes and watch-alikes to make it worth including them as a separate list, but those who'd like another fantasy detective and who enjoyed the tomb raiding scenes might want to watch the movie Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

Hiresha is visiting Oasis City, a place reminiscent of ancient Egypt, when she has the bad luck to be chosen as the Golden Scoundrel's next bride. True, the Golden Scoundrel is a god inhabiting the body of an incredibly adorable fennec fox, but no matter how adorable he is, Hiresha had always planned on one day marrying a human being. She refuses to agree to marry an animal, especially once she learns that the marriage is supposed to happen in the afterlife. She and the fox are scheduled to be entombed together in four days.

That just won't do, so Hiresha tries to escape with her maid and friend, Janny, and her bodyguard, Chandur. Unfortunately, the Golden Scoundrel disappears at around the same time. Chandur is accused of kidnapping her and stealing the fox and will be put to death in less than two days if Hiresha can't find both the true thief and the fox. And then she still has to figure out how to avoid her own scheduled death.

I read the first book in this series, Brood of Bones, over a year ago. The writing didn't quite work for me, and the premise and world were weird. I couldn't decide if it was weird-good or weird-bad, so I decided to give the series another shot, and I'm glad I did.

Marling wrote Brood of Bones in first person, from Hiresha's perspective. Her sleeping disorder gave the waking world a surreal quality that didn't really work for me, so I was thrilled when I realized that Fox's Bride was written in the third person limited, mostly with either Hiresha or Chandur as the focus. It freed the story up a lot, although it didn't entirely rid the world, which included sky rivers, jewel-based magic, and people riding on ostriches, of its surreal quality.

My favorite things about this book were probably the characters and the magical system. Hiresha was a fun and strange fantasy detective, barely able to function in the waking world because of her sleeping disorder but brilliant and sharp as a scalpel in her dreams. Sleep gave her access to her dream laboratory, a place where she could minutely examine the things she'd seen and heard in the waking world, analyze and enchant anything touching her body in the real world, and compartmentalize bothersome emotions by turning them into literal other selves she could consult as needed. In Brood of Bones, she ditched the immobilizing trappings of her station, her 27 dresses and golden hump. In Fox's Bride, she learned to question the assumption that an enchantress like her couldn't use her skills as a weapon in the waking world. She also began reevaluating her goals (although the events that led her to do that were painful to read – poor Hiresha). I look forward to seeing what other assumptions about herself and her world she questions in the next book.

Chandur was...a bit simpler. He'd once been told by a priest that it was his fate to have a bright future and marry a younger woman with “eyes a'glitter.” And he really, really believed that. His belief in his bright future made him fearless as he protected Hiresha and sustained him through most of his imprisonment. He came close to breaking down from time to time, but never truly did. It was impressive, but also extremely frustrating. Hiresha tried to tell him that he couldn't just wait for his bright future to fall in his lap, and he had no idea what she meant. I loved that he supported Hiresha and very clearly thought she was awesome, but there were times when he was such a fluff-brain it hurt.

There were some very light romantic aspects, in the form of a love triangle: Chandur, the man Hiresha saw as her best option if she could ever cure herself of her sleeping disorder, and Tethiel, the man (or monster) she secretly preferred (maybe). I wasn't entirely on board with either option, seeing as how Chandur was kind of silly and Tethiel was a fear-eating monster, but Tethiel at least had the advantage of being fun to read about. I loved his sarcasm and buckets of charm. Sadly, he wasn't in this book as much as I'd have liked – Hiresha tried to avoid him as much as possible.

Although this book was a huge improvement upon the first one, it still had problems. For one thing, I was very confused about the world. Brood of Bones seemed to take place in fantasy historical-ish Western world. However, Fox's Bride took place in a city that was very much influence by ancient Egypt, with pyramids, pharaohs, similar burial practices, and animal gods. In the process of writing this review, I've pieced together that Oasis City was probably a diplomatically important city between Hiresha's country and an ancient Egypt-like place. The maps included at the beginning of the book didn't really help, by the way – not only were the spidery lines and text hard to read on the sepia backgrounds, I couldn't really make sense of the info or how the two maps fit together. The way I understood it, the Sea of Fangs was supposed to be between the Dominion of the Sun and the Oasis Empire, with Oasis City near the Sea of Fangs, but Oasis City was actually near Dreamstorm Sea.

I was also bothered by Inannis, aka The Plot Device. At the start of the book, it looked like he was going to be the big bad villain. That didn't turn out to be the case – all he did was get the ball rolling, accomplish his goal (which wasn't really related to anything else in the story), and try to get away. He reappeared briefly so that Tethiel could make use of him and then disappeared again.

Complaints aside, I definitely plan on reading the next book. Hiresha is a fascinating heroine, and her magic is fun to read about.


A couple maps and an illustration of Oasis City's sky rivers.

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